Deltona is facing legal actions relating to a period of political instability in 2022.
Former Acting City Manager John Peters is suing Deltona for allegedly improperly firing him and not honoring his contract.
Former Deputy City Manager Stacey Kifolo, whom Peters hired, has filed a suit alleging she was subjected to a hostile work environment after Peters left and before she was fired.
Both civil cases are pending in the Volusia County Circuit Court.
In his breach-of-contract lawsuit, Peters is demanding $63,416 severance pay, which the suit says was due under his contract, and possibly several months of back pay.
The complaint notes Peters “was to be paid 20 weeks of severance and benefits if terminated ‘without cause.’”
Peters became city manager of Deltona shortly before Thanksgiving 2020, after the City Commission had lost confidence in Interim Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper.
Commissioners said Cooper, who had moved to the top administrative post following the resignation of Jane Shang, had failed to keep them informed about official business. Some were also chagrined to learn that Cooper had been searching for other employment without telling them.
As they wrestled with the leadership void then pending, commissioners abruptly decided to tap Peters, who had not even expressed interest in the position.
Peters, a professional engineer, was then public-works director, but moved up to acting city manager. A contract was hammered out that stated Peters would “serve at the pleasure of the City Commission.”
The contract also provided that, if the City Commission and Peters agreed, Peters would be allowed to return to his public-works director job at any time, and also that he could return to his old job if he resigned as manager or was replaced by a permanent manager.
Then, at one point in 2021, Peters complained commissioners were interfering in his work — something that is forbidden in Deltona’s charter. The charter has a strict separation of powers: The City Commission is a legislative and policymaking body, and day-to-day operations are the responsibility of the appointed city manager.
Airing his grievances appeared to ease tensions for a while.
Then, in the fall of 2022, Peters once again became dissatisfied as city manager and tendered his resignation in a letter, stating his intention to step down Nov. 17.
On Sept. 19, the commission debated Peters’ proposal and suddenly decided to terminate him that night. By a 4-3 vote, the commission dismissed Peters without restoring him as the city’s public-works director.
The decision to terminate Peters came as a tropical storm named Ian was morphing into a destructive hurricane that would leave much of Deltona flooded and struggling.
Peters’ suit contends his firing, first of all, was illegal, because Deltona’s charter requires a supermajority of at least five commission votes — not a simple majority of four — to terminate the city manager or the city attorney.
Another key issue in the dismissal of Peters as acting city manager is the lack of a cause, or reason, for terminating him.
What may be the heart of the lawsuit is Points 45 and 46: “… Defendant CITY has breached the [contract] by failing to pay PETERS the severance and benefits due.”
“Furthermore, to the extent that it is determined that PETERS was not terminated in accordance with the CITY’S Charter under the Agreements, PETERS has not been lawfully separated and is therefore entitled to back pay and benefits from November 17, 2022 to the date of trial of this matter, excluding an offset for the 20 weeks of severance and benefit due.”
The legal case is still in its early stage, and no trial date has yet been set.
That means the City of Deltona — or its insurance carrier — may be liable for a larger payout than previously thought.
Before the matter goes to trial, the court may order efforts to mediate for a settlement.
After dismissing Peters, the commission appointed City Attorney Marsha Segal-George as interim city manager for a few days until someone could be found to serve pending a search for another temporary administrator.
Segal-George filled the post until the City Commission selected former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm to take over.
After Peters left, Deputy City Manager Stacey Kifolo quickly fell out of favor with her new superior. Kifolo, whom Peters had hired as his second-in-charge in 2021, raised questions, according to her civil complaint, about negotiations for a new contract with the firefighters union, as well as about emergency medical services and the city’s pension program for firefighters.
Kifolo alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment. She also alleged Segal-George had accused her of failing to share information about negotiations with the firefighters union. Segal-George suspended Kifolo for insubordination on Oct. 5, after she had filed a complaint with Deltona’s Human Resources Department.
On Nov. 16, Kifolo’s suit notes, she was officially terminated as deputy city manager.
Her lawsuit is separate from that of her former boss, Peters. Kifolo is suing Deltona for allegedly violating Florida’s Whistleblower Act. She is asking for a jury trial, and is seeking reinstatement to her former city post, along with compensation of back wages and benefits, attorney’s fees and “other such relief” as the court may grant.